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Men's Hoops: Cats claw past pesky USC, 77-68

JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA senior center Channing Frye swerves around USC center Rory O'Neill on his way to the basket during the Wildcats' 77-68 victory over the visiting Trojans last night in McKale Center.
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 14, 2005
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Rodgers' career-high 22 points paces UA

For most of the season junior guard Chris Rodgers has been a spark plug coming off the bench for the Arizona men's basketball team, but in last night's 77-68 win over Southern California in McKale Center, he was the main source of power.

Rodgers scored a career-high 22 points in leading all scorers and pushing the Wildcats to 3-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference.

"Chris Rodgers gave us a huge lift. It's not about whether you start or not, it's about whether you finish," of head coach Lute Olson said.

By himself, Rodgers outscored the Trojans 10-8 in the final five minutes of the game. With UA leading 65-60 at the five-minute mark, Rodgers made two free throws and scored the Wildcats' next seven points. He led the Wildcats to a 12-point lead, their biggest of the contest, with 3:28 remaining, and his layup with 2:08 left gave the UA a 74-63 lead to keep USC out of reach.

"I don't really try to focus on scoring points," Rodgers said. "I just want to come out there and bring passion to the game, and whatever happens, happens."

Arizona built a 59-49 lead with 9:05 remaining on a 3-pointer from senior guard Salim Stoudamire, who finished with 21 points and was 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats went on a 6-0 run to open the second half to stretch the lead to 10, their biggest at that point. USC cut the lead to three over the next five minutes, but could never get much closer.

In the first half, the Wildcats scored 16 points off 13 Trojan turnovers to squeak into halftime with a 42-38 lead. The UA and USC exchanged the lead 13 times in the first half, and were tied four times, with the halftime margin of four tying the biggest lead the Wildcats could get in the first half.

Rodgers was also a huge reason for Arizona's success late in the first half. He scored all 10 of his first half points with less than seven minutes to go. His three-pointer with 38 seconds remaining in the first gave the Wildcats their four-point cushion going into the break.

Junior forward Hassan Adams, who finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four steals and six turnovers, scored the early points for the Wildcats, getting two fast-break dunks in a 90-second span to give UA a 10-9 lead.

Until last night, sophomore center Kirk Walters was redshirting the season before coming into a game for the first time this season. Olson said they have been thinking about taking Walters out of redshirt for about three weeks now, and the main reason was his play in practice.

"He's been playing so well in a practice situation," Olson said of his decision. "From a consistency standpoint, he's probably next to Channing. He's been our most consistent inside guy in a practice situation.

"Kirk right now is where I thought he'd be a year from now. We can't afford to have him sit out."

Walters was somewhat surprised by the decision, saying he didn't find out much before game time.

"When coach told me not to lift on Tuesday and Wednesday, I figured something was up," he said. "It felt pretty good to get out there, running up and down, and playing with the guys."

The Wildcats' next test comes with UCLA, who beat ASU last night 86-82 and moved to 10-3 and 4-1 in the Pac-10. The two teams tip-off at 4 p.m. Saturday against at McKale Center.

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